Reduce idle time and improve productivity: A how-to guide

Ever been in a cafe where baristas don’t use the latte machine much after sundown?

That’s a classic example of idle time when machines sit and wait as there’s no work due to a lack of demand. This idle time applies to machines, employees, and equipment at a facility. Too much idle time means a lack of productivity which ultimately makes you leave money on the table.

Idle time refers to the period a viable equipment isn’t on a schedule to run or stops working as there’s no demand. Businesses use maintenance management software to reduce this unproductive time and maximize efficiency.

Whether you’re a facility manager or maintenance technician looking to understand what causes idle time and how to minimize it, this article is for you.

What is idle time?

Idle time or waiting time refers to the period when an asset–machine or employee–is ready and available to work but doesn’t do anything productive.

Different external factors may contribute to an asset sitting idle, and you may or may not have control over those factors. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

  • A maintenance mechanic waiting for the equipment to arrive on site
  • An employee waiting for data delivery to start working on a project
  • A truck not making it to the construction site on time because of traffic

All these are examples of what idle time can look like. Unfortunately, as you probably know, it’s almost impossible to eliminate idle time because it’s simply inevitable.

Then why track it at all?

Tracking idle time helps you realize the gap between your maximum productivity level and the current output. This gap pushes you to look for ways to use assets most efficiently.

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Idle time vs. downtime

Idle time isn’t the same as downtime. Of course, an asset remains inactive in both cases, but the difference is the underlying reason.

Downtime happens when an asset isn’t operational either because of breakdown maintenance or scheduled maintenance.

  • Breakdown maintenance happens when a machine has failed and needs care before it can perform again. This unexpected machine failure affects productivity but is often out of your control. This type of idle time is known as abnormal idle time.
  • Scheduled maintenance occurs when assets go through planned maintenance to keep operating at peak efficiency. This type of idle time is also known as normal idle time.

Idle time means your machine isn’t experiencing failure or undergoing preventive maintenance but doesn’t perform its job. Common reasons for idle time include:

  • Lack of raw material
  • Power outages or technical issues
  • Dependency on other machines to complete a job
  • Unexpected production stoppage because of external factors

The critical difference is that: idle time happens when machines can run but don’t, whereas downtime results from assets not being in shape to run.

Now, let’s dive deep into normal and abnormal idle time.

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Types of idle time

You can’t minimize all idle time in a facility. However, understanding the types of idle time is key to optimizing machines and the workforce.

Normal idle time

Normal idle time or downtime for maintenance uses preventive enterprise asset management to keep workers safe and protect asset health. This kind of idle time is crucial for maintaining a production facility in good shape.

Normal idle time for workers means the time they spend setting up equipment, taking breaks in between work, and moving from one task to another.

Equipment goes through an average idle time when they go through preventive maintenance checklists, scheduled downtime, or equipment programming. Unfortunately, the management has very little control over such idle time.

Abnormal idle time

Abnormal idle time causes unproductivity simply because assets or workers are sitting idle or waiting. However, you can easily control idle time with technological intervention and management supervision.

Workers may cause abnormal idle time by going on strike, not procuring raw materials on time, and stopping work because of disagreement with the management.

Machines experience abnormal idle time in case of power failures, breakdowns, natural disasters, or other unforeseen events.

Time to look at some examples.

Examples of idle time

Idle time can take many forms, depending on your industry and facility, but here are a few common examples.

  • Software development: Software developers always work with designers, codes, and testers to create applications. There’s always dependency on others in such projects. When some people need more time, others may experience idle time before they can do their job.
  • Shipping: Transport companies often face idle time because of natural events, road conditions, and other external factors. As a result, they struggle with delayed deliveries.
  • Quality inspection: Manufacturing units and assembly factories take more time to inspect product quality on some days. This reduced capacity means idle time for the assembly line.

Now that you know the what let’s look at why.

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What causes idle time?

Check out why people, assets, and machines experience idle time.

  • Equipment stoppages: Facility equipment can lag for several reasons, including lack of materials, power outages, and dependency on other machines to complete jobs. A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) ensures that high-priority assets don’t experience unnecessary stoppages.
  • Entire system failure: Your employees can’t be much productive when the whole facility system fails or experiences an outage. That’s why it’s best to use maintenance management software to gain facility management visibility and set up troubleshooting processes.
  • Staff burnout: Providing your team enough time off is key to ensuring they remain at their peak efficiencies. New hires or transitioning roles may need an adjustment period to stay efficient. Plus, consider creating the right standard operating procedures and onboarding processes to set up your team for success.
  • Natural disasters: Natural hazards like storms, heat waves, or floods impact some industries more than others—for example, the shipping and trucking industry. Weather patterns play a huge role in the safety of truck drivers and the products they ship.

Now, let’s dive deep into the formula that helps you calculate idle time.

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How to calculate idle time

You can calculate idle time by deducting an asset’s productive hours from its scheduled duration.

Idle time = Scheduled production time - actual productive time

Calculating idle time for people is easier than for machines. However, we’ll look at both in this section.

Let’s say an employee spends six and a half hours working during an eight-hour shift. Given that employee correctly tracked the working hours, the idle time amounts to one and a half hours.

Now, let’s talk about machines.

Imagine your maintenance team has scheduled a machine to run for 18 hours daily. The machine needs 10 minutes to start, takes a cleaning pause for 30 minutes, and 10 minutes to shut down at the end of the day. Plus, there’s a 10-minute window when the machine doesn’t work due to shift change. So the total productive hour for this machine is about 17 hours.

This productive time further goes down when the machine waits for input materials, longer shift changes, and in case of unexpected breakdowns.

You must accommodate the idle cleaning time and the breaks operators take during a shift. However, you can reduce some idle time by avoiding input material delays or longer shift changes–let’s see how.

How to minimize idle time

Ideally, a perfect operational workflow runs at 100% efficiency, but that’s barely achievable in real life. Any facility suffers from different varying activities which contribute to idle time. Luckily, there are ways to tackle that too.

  • Clarify what constitutes idle time. Defining different idle time key performance indicators (KPIs) will help create a solid foundation for tracking idle time. Also, consider using connected CMMS software to record these metrics, investigate patterns, and spot potential issues.
  • Prevent confusion among workers. Clear instructions about work orders help your team perform tasks efficiently. Plus, ensure they have complete and accurate information about inventory, assets, and production schedules. You can easily do all these with Facilio–a facility management software that centralizes all data and analyzes them to help you make data-driven decisions faster.
  • Maintain assets and optimize workflows. Centralizing all asset data points is key to initiating preventive and corrective maintenance–both helpful for keeping your assets healthy and productive. Also, don’t forget to implement the right workflows for automating work order execution and maintenance tasks. Facilio’s CMMS platform can help you there too.

Wondering why you should care? Idle time means your asset is available but not doing its job. Finding the root causes of idle time aids you in implementing strategic maintenance solutions for better productivity and profitability.

How does handling idle time improve productivity?

Reporting productive and non-productive aspects of assets can help you be more effective, whether you are a facility manager or a machine operator. Understanding the reasons behind unproductivity enables you to focus on improving processes and workflows and even create employee training programs. Once you spot specific inefficiencies, you can train supervisors and technicians to handle assets better during idle time. As a result, your productivity goes up.

Don’t let idle time be a silent killer

Many organizations suffer from idle time, silently killing their profitability and efficiency. Unfortunately, busy managers don’t see it coming unless they pay close attention to repetitive disruption and idle time patterns. That’s why you need CMMS software like Facilio by your side. It helps you gather real-time updates and work order statuses and alerts you if an asset is likely to fail or experience idle time.

Sign up for a demo to see Facilio in action and how it equips you to handle idle time better.